The Princess Bride is one of my favorite movies. It is filled with swash-buckling adventure, an evil prince, a beautiful princess, and her daring rescuer—”the man in black”. Its not the adventure or the thrill of the chase or even the daring rescue of the princess that makes me love The Princess Bride, it is the simplicity of the love.
Wesley is a poor farm boy who works for Buttercup on her farm. The farmhouse is situated on a wide span of rolling green pasture with pots and pans hanging from the kitchen ceiling. It is not fancy but nor is it drab. Whenever Buttercup tells Wesley to do some task for her, he always responds, “As you wish.” One day, Buttercup realizes that whenever Wesley is saying, “As you wish,” what he really means is, “I love you.” And she loves him too. As the two fall in love, Wesley decides he must leave to make his fortune and will return to her so that they can marry. However, he is taken hostage and killed on the high seas by the Dread Pirate Roberts and Buttercup is left to mourn.
In her grief, Buttercup is even more beautiful and becomes betrothed to the prince of the land, Prince Humperdink. For Humperdink, this marriage is more opportunity than love not because Princess Buttercup has great wealth but because Prince Humperdink plans to have her killed and blame it on the neighboring country in order to start a war. Enter “the man in black” who saves the day and is then discovered to be Buttercup’s Wesley—who was not killed by the Dread Pirate Roberts, but in fact was made the Dread Pirate Roberts after the current Dread Pirate Roberts retired. The happy couple ride off into the sunset because their kind of love is a “storybook story.”
It is a storybook story, but the movie also serves to remind us that it is not the grand gestures of wealth and castles and marrying princes that are the foundation of love and care in this world—that foundation is much simpler. Love is grounded in the small acts of kindness and opportunities of compassion we offer to one another. The Princess Bride serves to contrast the relationship of grandeur that we think we desire—the feasting halls and beautiful gowns and jewels—with the simple pleasure of home and hearth: a reflection of an authentic relationship in which we might serve one another rather than use one another to serve our own purposes.
Over the last several years, I’ve noticed a trend in our culture in which young people have become distracted by the “grand gesture”. Looking up “grand gesture” in Urban Dictionary, you notice that it has become slang for showing someone how you feel about them—as if its not enough to simply say I love you anymore, we must do something big in exchange for the love of another. I see this a lot around prom time. It’s no longer ok for a boy just to ask a girl to prom, now he has to send her a pizza with the words “Will you go to Prom with me?” spelled out in pepperonis. or when my niece got engaged—her soon-to-be-finance planned a big surprise engagement celebration and went to elaborate lengths to plan the day for her including hiring a photographer to capture the moment. I love my niece and think her finance a wonderful young man, I have no doubt they will be happy, but I wonder about this current trend of tying grand gestures to love and leaving behind the simplicity of our affections.
In part, I think our focus on the grand gesture has caused us to believe that in order to make something count, it has to be BIG. That the only things of real value are the big, in-your-face actions, ideas, or beliefs. We don’t appreciate a subtle approach. We aren’t as grateful for the little things; instead take a position of expectation when it comes to the little things. When those expectations aren’t met, we get angry or hurt, but when they are met, we rarely offer gratitude or even recognize the gift we’ve been given. We’ve forgotten how to be thankful for a cup of cold water and instead ask for a pitcher of iced tea.
When offering a kindness or proposing an action—it is often welcomed with doubt and questions—a reflection of judgment and resistance—rather than acceptance or gratitude. Jesus tells us this morning that the prophet’s welcome—the kind that comes with a warning,—or the righteous welcome—the kind that comes with instructions as to how to do it better—are two ways in which you might receive your reward. But there is a third way; the disciple’s way. Jesus tells us that to another welcome in the name of the disciple is as simple as offering a cup of cold water to another. That kind of welcome has nothing to do with improvement or warning. Its not a grand gesture. There is no judgment involved. It is simply an act of acceptance, of kindness, of meeting another’s need. As Mary Sarton put it in her poem, “ A Glass of Water”, the simple gesture of welcome is one that connects and restores another.
Here is a glass of water from my well.
It tastes of rock and root and earth and rain;
It is the best I have, my only spell,
And it is cold, and better than champagne.
Perhaps someone will pass this house one day
To drink and be restored, and go his way,
Someone in dark confusion as I was
When I drank down cold water in a glass,
Drank a transparent health to keep me sane,
After the bitter mood had gone again.
Our call to welcome, our call to love in this world, is not about grand gestures. It is a call to transformation and the restoration of humanity found in simple acts of kindness that are not defined by imagination and creativity, but grounded in the hope of renewal and the sincerity of affection we have when we recognize the humanity of the other. If we want to change the world, we don’t have to do something big, we need only respond, “As you wish.” Amen.
Pentecost 4A: Genesis 22:1-14; Psalm 13; Romans 6:12-23; Matthew 10:40-42
Church of the Ascension, Montgomery, AL
The Rev. Candice B. Frazer
Sunday, June 28, 2020